NBA Free Agency: Timberwolves Sign Wing AJ Lawson to Two-Way Contract

The Minnesota Timberwolves and wing AJ Lawson have agreed on a one-year, two-way contract according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Lawson, 6-foot-6 wing, was fifth in overall scoring at NBA Las Vegas Summer League, playing for the Dallas Mavericks. The former University of South Carolina standout averaged 15.6 points per game on 51.9/50.0/84.6 shooting splits, 6.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists-to-2.2 turnovers, 0.8 steals and 0.6 blocks in 29.5 minutes per game across five matchups in Sin City.

“The key areas I wanted to show, three levels of scoring I can do: I can shoot the trey-ball, I can hit the mid-range, I can get to the basket,” the 22-year-old Lawson told Sports Illustrated this week.

He surely did that. The Toronto, Ontario native improved upon his 11.8 points per game scoring mark on 48.1/34.2/54.5 shooting splits from his G-League season with the College Park Skyhawks, and on solid volume, too. Lawson took 26 3s in five games, making 13 of them. He also shot 14/26 (53.8%) inside the arc, as well as 11/13 (84.6%) from the free throw line.

Lawson has a fluid and pretty shot motion, but it’s inconsistent and has a periodic hitch that can result in him missing short, or altogether. And don’t worry, it’s not Jarrett Culver-level hitch. But the Wolves also didn’t select him No. 6 overall.

If he has make some tweaks and find a comfortable, highly repeatable stroke, he’s not far off from being a productive long-range shooter by any means.

“Especially this summer, I worked a lot on changing speed, changing pace,” Lawson said in an interview with SB Nation’s Mavs Moneyball during Summer League. “I’m just in the lab, in the gym with my trainer and my coaches trying to get better working on that, playing with tempo. I feel like I’m getting better and I’m doing just that.”

Prior to dominating in Summer League, Lawson joined the Guelph Nighthawks of the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) to build off of his G-League season. He averaged 16.5 points on 44.3/32.8/72.5 splits, 5.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists-to-1.8 turnovers, 0.9 steals and 0.6 blocks in 30.8 minutes per game in 10 contests.

“I played in the CEBL this summer, getting a lot of reps in there. It’s a great league, a growing league in Canada. It helped me out a lot because it kept me in game rhythm,” Lawson told SI. “When I came out in Summer League, I felt like I was still in rhythm, my shot felt good, and my wind was there. I wasn’t getting tired.”

The shooting and driving pop was nice, but I was most intrigued with how Lawson moved without the ball in his hands. He very likely won’t play point guard or be a primary creator for others in the G-League, so he has to impact the game off-ball, and he did that at Summer League.

Minnesota President of Basketball Operations Tim Connelly and Head Coach Chris Finch will look for Lawson to carry that rhythm into a featured, offensive engine role on the Iowa Wolves this winter. Given that new signing Bryn Forbes and (soon-to-be-signed) Austin Rivers are on one-year, veteran’s minimum deals, there is a plausible on-ramp for Lawson to make the Wolves’ NBA squad on a full-time contract next season if he shows out in Iowa.

Many fans — myself among them — thought Wolves Summer League standout Kevon Harris may get a look after putting up impressive numbers (15.7 PPG on 57.7/45.8/72.7 splits, 2.8 RPG, 2.0 APG), but Lawson is three years younger, which could very well have been the deciding factor there.

The Wolves also have a tender offer out to restricted free agent forward Nathan Knight, meaning that he can either accept it and return to the Wolves on a one-year, two-way deal, or seek a standard NBA contract elsewhere. Minnesota has the right to match any deal he would sign elsewhere.

Unless something unexpected happens, Lawson and Knight will fill the team’s pair of two-way spots, while the NBA club has one roster spot remaining and roughly $4.23 million of space beneath the luxury tax to fill it with. The team has the $4.105 million bi-annual exception to use, as well, if they opt against signing a third player to a minimum deal.

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